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Death by strangulation is a chilling reminder of how fragile life is
By Linda Telfah
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<b>Linda Telfah</b>
Linda Telfah

Death by strangulation is a chilling reminder of how fragile life is when you’re in the grips of an abusive partner. Strangulation as a mode of assault is always terrifying for the victim and can be fatal.

Strangulation is a precursor to homicide, and strangulation victims are 750 times more likely to be killed than victims who have never been strangled, according to research.

Unfortunately, the tragic death of Gabby Petito has put the spotlight on strangulation. And while her case has opened a national conversation about partner abuse, over the past two years there has been a marked increase in domestic violence assaults with victims being isolated in their homes because of COVID-19. It takes five seconds to render someone unconscious, and death can occur within minutes. If you’ve been strangled by your intimate partner, they will likely kill you. Today, strangulation cases are being charged at the felony level because of the risk of death during the assault.

“When journalists correctly utilize the term ‘strangulation,’ they increase the public’s familiarity with a specific form of abuse and acknowledge the severe short and long term consequences of this type of violence,” according to The Massachusetts Coalition Against Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence as reported by USA Today.

Assaults that seek to deprive someone of oxygen are more common than most people realize, experts say. A woman who has been assaulted in such a way by a partner has a sevenfold risk of being murdered by that partner, Eve Valera, an associate professor at Harvard Medical School, told USA Today.

“It’s one of the most frightening experiences that women tend to report in intimate partner violence. It’s really about power and control, and it’s making a statement, ‘I can take your life at any moment,’” said Valera, who studies intimate partner violence.

In nonfatal cases, evidence of strangulation isn’t always visible. Experts say strangulation can even lead to death without leaving any external marks on the body. That’s why greater education and awareness is needed.

During the coronavirus pandemic, intimate partner violence — and its severity — has “skyrocketed,” Valera said. That means instances of women being strangled by their partners have certainly gone up. Galveston County domestic assaults, too, have increased, and judges continue to respond proactively to the increase by enforcing existing laws and ordering no contact bond conditions and other protective measures.

The Galveston County Criminal District Attorney’s Office remains committed to serving victims of intimate partner violence and all victims of crime. October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month and if you or someone you know is a victim of physical abuse, please contact the victim’s unit at 409-770-5124 for protective order assistance and resources.

Linda Telfah is the chief victim assistance coordinator for the Galveston County District Attorney’s Office.
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